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FT. WORTH: Canon Writes Open Letter to Frank Griswold


By The Rev'd Canon John Heidt

April 2, 2004

An Open Letter to the Presiding Bishop and House of Bishops

Dear Bishop Griswold,

It has come to my attention that since the recent meeting of the House of Bishops there are those who claim that the more "liberal" bishops led by yourself were eager to find out what the more "orthodox" bishops really want and would have come up with a stronger statement if more of them had attended the meeting.

This is a serious indictment, and knowing several of the bishops involved I have asked myself why they did not attend and what would have been gained if they had. It seems to me that all of us who sincerely want to maintain "the greatest possible communion among us" must try to understand sympathetically their decision before criticizing it. And we must ask what more the HOB could have learned from them about their needs that has not already been made quite clear.

I find three interrelated groups who have either decided not to attend any more HOB meetings or, for strategic purposes, to attend only some of the sessions.

First is a broadly based group who feel socially marginalized, ecclesiastically disenfranchised, and theologically excommunicated by a large majority of their fellow bishops. That this has happened raises the whole question of how we think we appoint bishops - by popular election or by the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Or have we come to assume that the two are the same: "Vox Populi, Vox Dei" - as those seemed to believe who argued that New Hampshire should have whatever bishop the people elected.

This group of bishops find the HOB meetings a waste of time and only attend all or some of the sessions in the hope of still wielding some influence on the rest of the House. I believe these bishops will only be won back, if at all, when the rest of the bishops show outward signs of genuine respect for their convictions, and admit that the majority may be wrong. They will not be won back by accommodation, compromise or toleration. Who, after all, wants to be tolerated?

Within this group is a more cohesive group of bishops, represented by many of those taking part in the new "Network of Anglican Churches." These bishops believe it is morally wrong to take part in any future meetings of the HOB. Their argument is simple but clear: Homosexuality is condemned by scripture; the House of Bishops has approved the consecration of a practicing homosexual; therefore the House of Bishops is condemned by scripture.

To participate in the house's future deliberations would be guilt by association. The issue for them is not about the Episcopal Church and how it chooses its bishops, but about the primary work of the Church itself - saving souls. This is a so-called "salvation issue" which cannot be compromised. Only a corporate act of repentance by the HOB acknowledging that it was wrong to disregard scripture in allowing the consecration of a public practicing homosexual, can possibly bring them back.

Until that unlikely event, they look to the greater Anglican Communion for support. Because they believe they are in a state of "impaired communion" with the rest of ECUSA's bishops they require some form of guaranteed episcopal oversight from those bishops who cannot accept the actions of the last General Convention.

Thirdly are the few bishops left who believe that the HOB went into serious error in 1976 when it agreed to permit the ordination of women. Believing such ordinations are invalid, as supported neither by scripture, tradition nor any established catholic authority, they are unable to accept the priestly and episcopal ministries of ordained women and therefore consider themselves in a state of impaired communion with the rest of the bishops. (There are others, and I am surprised at how many there are, who believe that though the 1976 decision was mistaken can still live with it. If they do not go to HOB meetings it is for other reasons.)

These few bishops continued to participate in the meetings of the HOB so long as their position was respected. But now that this is no longer the case they have aligned themselves with many of those in the above group. Like them, these bishops want to be in step with the rest of the Anglican Communion, but not so much because they think of themselves simply as Anglican but because they see the Communion itself primarily as a provincial or ethnic portion of the Catholic Church united and authenticated by common faith and sacraments.

For them valid sacraments as well as true faith are "salvation issues" because they are the covenanted means by which the church mediates Christ's salvation to each generation. They see no point in being part of a HOB that thinks of the Episcopal Church as one denomination among many with a right to determine its own faith and practice apart from the vast consensus of Christendom.

I do not see any possibility of them again becoming involved in the deliberations of the national episcopal church at any level unless the ecumenical dimension of the church is taken into account and their own position is respected by repealing the punitive canons now in force.

At the moment what do these groups want apart from respect for their position? I think they have made this quite clear. They want priests and laity to be ministered to by bishops who do not accept the HOB's approval of Robinson's consecration. And they want this ministry guaranteed rather than dependent upon the whim of individual diocesan bishops, and to be assured that priests and laity of their persuasion will not be threatened or harassed legally, politically or economically. (I have learned that one bishop has already sent letters to his clergy warning them that anyone who brought in another bishop would be liable to presentment.) To secure this they want any such oversight to be guided by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the primates, and not just by someone like yourself who is not of their persuasion.

Finally, adequate episcopal oversight is not primarily about jurisdiction but about communion. The juridical is meant to support communion, and when it becomes divisive and/or immoral it sometimes has to be ignored.

The Rev'd Canon John Heidt, M.Litt., D.Phil. (Oxon) is Canon Theologian to the Bishop of Fort Worth the Rt. Rev. Jack Iker.

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